Early Childhood Tooth Decay

What causes tooth decay?

Several specific types of bacteria that live on the teeth cause decay. When sugar is consumed, the bacteria use the sugar to manufacture acids that dissolve the teeth and cause an infection in the tooth. This infection is called decay. Now known as Early Childhood Caries (ECC), infant tooth decay results when babies fall asleep with breast milk, milk, formula and/or juice from a bottle on their teeth. Babies are not able to clear the pooling liquid from their mouths.Because the sugar in formula, milk or juice stays in contact with the teeth for a long time during the night or at naptime, the teeth can decay quickly.

Here are some tips to avoid Early Childhood Caries:

  • Brush your baby’s teeth at least twice a day
  • Put your child to bed with a bottle of plain water, not milk or juice
  • Stop nursing when your child is asleep and wipe the teeth with a clean washcloth
  • Try not to let your child walk around using a bottle or sippy cup of milk or juice as a pacifier
  • Start to teach your child to drink from a cup at about six months of age. Plan to stop using a bottle by twelve to fourteen months at the latest
  • Don’t dip your child’s pacifier in honey or sugar
  • Read, sing or rock your child to sleep as an alternative to continuous feeding

What Is Fluoride?

Fluoride helps make teeth strong and prevents tooth decay. If the water where you live does not have enough fluoride, your doctor may prescribe fluoride supplements (fluoride drops or pills). You would give these drops or pills every day, starting when your child is about six months old. Only give as much as the directions say to use because too much fluoride can cause spots on your child’s teeth. Also, be sure to call your local water authority and ask if your water is fluoridated. If it is, tell your dentist or pediatrician so that your child is not being over-fluoridated. Children should take these drops or pills until they are twelve to sixteen years old (or until you move to an area with fluoride in the water).